Journey Beyond the Screen

Upper Pitone Road: The Final Battle

New Zealand: The Last SamuraiUpper Pitone Road: The Final Battle

Location

Filming the final battle scene in The Last Samurai was a massive undertaking for the filmmakers. Horses had to be trained for months on end to cope with the noise and frenzy of the fighting, the paddock had to be prepared for the galloping scenes and over 500 extras flown in from Japan had to be catered for. Thankfully, landowners Raymond and Keri Lewis were more than happy to accommodate everyone on their farm.

When tasked with finding the location for the final battle, location manager Charlie Harrington also had to make sure that the chosen site would have a natural funnel for the Imperial Army footsoldiers to pass through.

When tasked with finding the location for the final battle, location manager Charlie Harrington also had to make sure that the chosen site would have a natural funnel for the Imperial Army footsoldiers to pass through.

Many parts of the fictional story are based on the true events around the last rebellion of the Samurai, led by Saigō Takamori on 24 September 1877. Saigō and his Samurai warriors took a last stand against the Imperial Japanese Army troops during the Battle of Shiroyama. The heavily outnumbered Samurai lost and Saigō died on the battlefield. He was posthumously pardoned by Emperor Meiji.

The gravel road had to be put in specifically for the tracking rig.

The gravel road had to be put in specifically for the tracking rig.

A little bit of movie trivia: Tom Cruise insisted on doing all of his character's stunts himself. Apparently, he prepared for more than a year, learning how to fight, gallop a horse in full armour, and even learnt Japanese.

One of the stuntmen in action.

One of the stuntmen in action.

These days, nothing remains from the filming and farmers Raymond and Keri have long since gone back to using the paddock for their stock. The image below shows the battleground in early September 2017, which is the beginning of spring in New Zealand.

The flat area was where the Samurai charged into the Japanese Imperial Army. On top of the hill in the distance stood the army's cannons and several Gatling guns, firing down towards the oncoming riders.

The flat area was where the Samurai charged into the Japanese Imperial Army. On top of the hill in the distance stood the army's cannons and several Gatling guns, firing down towards the oncoming riders.

The grass in the photo is a lot greener than at the time of filming. The reason for this is that 2002 saw the hottest and driest summer for decades. Even today, the locals still talk about "The Samurai Summer".

 

Key Scenes

Captain Algren overlooks the battlefield. The 500 Samurai warriors are ready to fight but will have to face an enemy 5,000 strong.

On the other side of the field, Bagley, Omura and several German and Japanese officers
stand atop a ridge, evaluating the situation.

The foot soldiers of the Imperial Army take up their positions.

Captain Algren and Katsumoto discuss their chances.

The battle is in full swing.

Charging towards the enemy in full armour.

Ultimately, the superior fire power of the Imperial Army's Gatling cannons proves too much for the Samurai to take on. Their final charge is stopped by a hail of bullets from semi-automatic weapons. Captain Algren survives but the Samurai have entered the history books.

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Although the location is on private farmland, landowners Raymond and Keri Lewis are happy to open their property to individual visitors. If you're keen to visit, please get in touch with us first.

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